In April, I flew from Tampa to Los Angeles to stay with my friend and lover for a few days and watch him record a TV show. He was in network meetings (exciting!) for the first couple hours after I arrived, so I took a Lyft from LAX to his place, then trekked on foot to Cafe Gratitude, the vegan restaurant I’d heard so much about online. (They had a scandal a few years back that is really funny to me, even though it shouldn’t be.)
Cafe Gratitude has four locations, and I visited the Larchmont location. I felt excited as soon as I walked up, seeing a “WHAT ARE YOU GRATEFUL FOR?” mural in the parking lot with a chalk wall beneath it. I’d seen on the map that it was in an area with lots of art galleries. It was indeed artsy!
I was hungry, so I went inside immediately. The host had a soft voice and I liked her vibe. She let me charge my phone in the little host station area. She seated me in an enclosed outdoor section. There was chill music playing and a nice ambiance.
After seating me, she said, “Every day, we like to ask our guests a question. May I ask you one?” I said sure. She asked, “What is most important to you creatively right now?”
I smiled, thinking this was very LA-ish, but also cool. I began to answer. “That’s a good question! I’m not totally sure. I’m working on a couple of proj–” and then she turned and walked away.
I felt stunned! I guess Cafe Gratitude’s question of the day is rhetorical.
I ordered Buffalo Cauliflower and it was delicious. I’ve ordered it many places, but it was extra delicious here. Probably because it was breaded.
I noticed two women looking at me repeatedly from another table and felt self-conscious. Did they think I was pathetic for eating alone? Or was I not fashionable enough for LA? I hadn’t looked closely in a mirror since getting off the plane.
When the server came to their table, they motioned at me and I heard them order Buffalo Cauliflower. A real-life “We’ll have what she’s having.” Suddenly I went from feeling like an ugly out-of-towner to a trendsetter. When the dish arrived to their table, it was my turn to stare at them for a bit, because I felt responsible for the order and wanted to see if they liked it. (They did.)
Sadly, I cannot tell you what I ordered for the main course. I didn’t take a photo because my near-dead phone was charging. But the dish wasn’t as good as the Buffalo Cauliflower. It was okay. It might’ve been a bowl? Or the lettuce wraps? It was fine. A bit overpriced, I remember thinking. It felt like a healthy choice. I didn’t regret it. It was easily forgettable. It made me full enough that I didn’t order dessert. That’s saying a lot. I always order dessert.
I left Cafe Gratitude to walk around. But first, I decided to write what I was grateful for on the “WHAT ARE YOU GRATEFUL FOR?” wall.
I wrote my lover’s name in bright chalk, then took the first photo in this post and sent it to him, telling him to study it to find my contribution. He didn’t know what I was talking about, so I cropped it to make his name more obvious and re-sent the photo. This time he saw it.
I’ve dragged my feet on writing this review, because I wasn’t sure if I should write about that incident. You see, this friend and I are no longer friends. It’s for the best, but when relationships end, I tend to dwell, and feel bad, and take it a little too hard.
But I couldn’t write about Cafe Gratitude without writing about the gratefulness wall. I liked the wall as much as I liked the food. It didn’t feel corny or hokey. It felt perfectly LA. A bunch of people had written what they were earnestly grateful for. Standing in front of the wall, I experienced immense feel-good, public art vibes. I wrote what I was earnestly grateful for at the time. I was awash in gratitude while standing outside of Cafe Gratitude. It was nice. Life isn’t always like that.
I walked around Hollywood taking photos of flowers. This one is the Blue Crown Passion flower. A bunch of them grew in someone’s front yard as a hedge. I did something I shouldn’t have. I popped one off and gingerly put it in my bag so it would be protected, so I could later give it to the one I felt grateful for. (He liked it, or at least acted like he liked it.)
I walked around Hollywood feeling happy, but a little chilly–it was much colder than Tampa had been and I had no cold tolerance back in April. Vegan food in my belly, an exotic flower in my bag.
I was contemplating a move to Hollywood at the time. I’d already told everyone in my life I was moving to Minneapolis, but it was a cover to hide that I wasn’t certain yet. That I was considering something risky and maybe reckless and certainly life-changing. I’d discussed the move multiple times with my lover in the weeks leading up to my visit. The prospect of being so spontaneous felt romantic and free and exciting. As I walked around West Hollywood I looked at everything with wonder, thinking, “Is this my future home?” and “What would my life be like here?” I was drunk on the idea of it.
I searched art galleries in my map app, wanting to find something nearby, cool, small, and off-the-beaten path. I found the Toy Art Gallery. When I arrived, I learned they were only open to the public by appointment. When they found out I’d come from Florida and was checking out my potential new neighborhood, they opened up their gallery just for me. A nice man whose name I’ve forgotten gave me a personal tour, with plenty of detail and history about the art toys.
When it came time for me to leave, he urged me to come back once I lived in Hollywood. I told him nothing was certain yet, I might end up in Minneapolis. He shook his head. “You’ll end up here. I can tell. You’re going to love it.” He told me about a market where people sell handmade goods and a few other art galleries and museums I should check out once I moved. This stranger seemed so confident about me moving to LA, that it started to feel like a certainty. Like it was just a matter of time.
Next, I headed back to my friend’s apartment, practically bursting with joy. I dropped into a vintage store and bought a velour jacket that looked almost identical to the Fila jacket I was wearing, except this one wasn’t vintage-inspired, it was actual vintage from the 1970s. Later he’d call it the “rap jacket” and pretend it had magical powers that made him good at rapping.
I dropped into Winchell’s Donut House and bought half a dozen donuts, thinking it’d be a fun surprise to give to my friend when I gave him the Blue Crown Passion flower. Well, I also wanted to eat some donuts, too. I remembered visiting a Winchell’s a few times when I first moved to Denver in 2013 and really liking it. I didn’t bother asking if the donuts were vegan. It’s as if I were too happy to think about it.
I found this cheery flower mural on the wall of a laundromat, if I’m remembering correctly. I do remember it was fairly close to his apartment. He was already home, waiting for me, so I tried to walk quickly, but I was so happy and grateful for everything I couldn’t resist capturing the flower wall in a photo. Those flowers look the way I felt.